17 Iconic First Issue Covers of Famous Magazines

The New Yorker

famous magazine coversDo you remember when you could get a copy of Time magazine for only 15 cents? You probably don’t because that was nearly 100 years ago. Some of the magazines we read each day have been around for decades. As these magazines grow, they update their cover look and feel to move with the times. Can you imagine what Time looked like back in the 20’s? Here’s a look at Time and 16 other popular distributions from way back when they first started.

1 Time

TimeDate: March 3, 1923

The first Time cover showed a portrait of House speaker Joseph G. Cannon. The editorial consisted of short news bulletins, an ad for All America Cables, and strangely enough, imaginary interviews with Jack Dempsey, John D. Rockefeller, the boy Emperor of China and princess Yolanda of Italy.

2 People

PeopleDate: Match 4, 1974

People’s initial cover gives the nod to Mia Farrow’s role in The Great Gatsby and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, “a sermon nobody sleeps through.” Once inside, you could explore the parties, pets and personalities of Palm Beach, and a particularly insensitive piece from the Medics column called “Two Fatties get a new kind of lock jaw,” a tale about two women who had their mouths cemented shut just to lose weight. Thankfully, medical practices, along with magazines, have come a long way since.

3 Wired

WiredDate: March/April 1993

“The Rolling Stone of technology” released its very first issue in early 1993 with features about the future of war technology, HDTVs, digital sex, and more. Wired also had a piece on what our lives would be like if our appliances were smart, or had computer chip brains. And an ahead of its time look at “libraries without walls for books without pages” a full decade before ebooks were a reality.

4 New York Magazine

New York MagazineDate: April 8, 1968

On the cover, the voices of a city in trouble look to be heard, then “Tom Wolfe Tells if You’re a Honk or a Wonk.” Inside readers discovered ads for Chut-Nut and Canada’s thwarted plot to conquer the U.S. with their refreshing Red Rose Tea.

5 Sports Illustrated

Sports IllustratedDate: August 16, 1954

The iconic first cover of S.I. sported a photo called, “Night Baseball in Milwaukee,” showing slugger Eddie Matthews in mid-swing. The big story included a battle between history’s first runners to do a four minute mile, “Duel of the Four Minute Men: Bannister surges to victory in the heart-stirring Vancouver mile.”

6 Playboy

PlayboyDate: December 1953

Playboy got off to a fast start thanks to a cameo by Marilyn Monroe, who graced both the cover and centerfold. And of course the articles, which everyone surely read too. The magazine sold 53,991 first copies and got started from a makeshift office in Hugh Hef’s kitchen.

7 Nintendo Power

Nintendo PowerDate: July/August 1988

Were you ever able to beat Mike Tyson’s Punch Out? If not, Nintendo Power had you covered, including all the names of all the Metroid weapons and more. Nintendo’s magazine had a great run, but unfortunately was discontinued several years ago.

8 The New Yorker

The New YorkerDate: Feb 21, 1925

The New Yorker’s covers have long been graced by the visage of Eustace Tilley, almost every anniversary since 1926. The character was designed by Rea Irvin for the first issue, which also included short fiction stories (“Say it with Scandal” and “The Story of Manhattankind”), some nonfiction, and of course the magazine’s popular cartoons.

9 Esquire

EsquireDate: Autumn 1933

Right from the start, the magazine laid out its editorial mission:”Esquire aims to become the common denominator of masculine interests—to be all things to all men.” The first features included work by Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett and John Dos Passos, a guide to the perfect putt, and an essay called “What a married man should know (About doing the marketing and getting his own breakfast and ducking all trouble in general).”

10 Rolling Stone

Rolling StoneDate: November 9, 1967

Rolling Stone’s first cover featured a story with John Lennon in “How I Won the War,” a photo for the Monterey Pop Festival and a brief mention of the Grateful Dead (“a photographic look at a rock ‘n roll group after a dope bust”). Can you believe in 1967, a subscription was only $5 for 6 months or $10 per year?

11 Newsweek

NewsweekDate: Feb. 17, 1933

The publication initially started out called News-week and featured a gripping lead story about “Easing Burdens of Debt and Foreclosure: Mortgagers, Ignoring Law, soon force virtual moratoria; Legislatures Prompt to Act; Congress Considers Measures for Early Relief of Hard Pressed Farmers, other home owners.” However in a ploy to get more people to actually purchase the magazine, they plastered hated Nazis on the cover too.

12 Life

LifeDate: November 23, 1936

The cover of the first Life portrays a photo of Fort Peck Dam. Inside you could find hits like “10,000 Montana relief workers make whoopee on Saturday night” and a center spread warning of the “Black Widow,” where readers were reminded how “hardly a week goes by that some newspaper doesn’t carry the account of Man Killed by Black Widow Bite…”

13 The Atlantic Monthly

The Atlantic MonthlyDate: November 1, 1857

The “Magazine of Literature, Art, and Politics” printed Sally Parsons Diary in their first issue, but sadly, no strange advertisements.

14 Variety

VarietyDate: December 16, 1905

Variety’s initial editorial statement were a little murky: “we want you to read it. It will be interesting for no other reason than it will be conducted on original lines for a theatrical newspaper.” And to that regard, the first issue had an array of articles that covered the latest fads among vaudeville managers, a list of new acts, corks a column titled “Mick Norton’s reminiscences.”

15 Fast Company

Fast CompanyDate: November 1995

The premier issue of Fast Company may of been ahead of its time, but looks like a failed experiment in horror typography. The lead story was about groundbreaking female tech leaders (“A Woman’s Place Is in Cyberspace”), a story looking at “How Netscape Won,” and plenty of pointers for people who love business, tech, and the secrets of corporate ladder-climbing — including a career counseling guide from the VP of Intel.

16 Harper’s

Harper'sDate: June 1850

The first issue of Harper’s consists mostly of excerpts, poems, and articles curated from other sources. The features included an article about “Women in the East,” and an excerpt from Maurice Tierney’s Soldier of Fortune.

17 ESPN the Magazine

ESPN the MagazineDate: March 1998

The inaugural issue of ESPN’s magazine featured four athletes they felt would define the next generation: Kobe Bryant (then just 19), Alex Rodriguez, Eric Lindros, and Kordell Stewart. ESPN is a go to source for sports entertainment, and while Kobe Bryant was a good call, this cover will surely entertain the many detractors of Alex Rodriguez (a disgraced baseball superstar suspended for using Steroids), Eric Lindros aka “the concussion” and Kordell Stewart, who almost single handedly blew 3 AFC Championship games for the Steelers and is considered a sworn enemy of the State.

[via mentalfloss]

Are you a reader of any of these magazines? Which first cover did you like best?

Daniel Zeevi

By Daniel Zeevi

Daniel is a social network architect, web developer, infographic designer, writer, speaker and founder of DashBurst. Full-time futurist and part-time content curator, always on the hunt for disruptive new technology, creative art and web humor.


  1. The best is ” Nitendo Super” with Mario, the first who shows friendly competition with each other. I was fond of this funny play with my son. Marvellous souvenirs.

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